1869, Salem's Council adopted an ordinance "Relating
to Common Drunkards: .... any person in the habit of becoming
grossly drunk, and had kept up such a habit for period of
one month, the Recorder shall declare such a person a common
One of the first items of concern in Oregon's governmental
history, reflecting the religious and conservative character
of its earliest settlers, was a law prohibiting liquor in
the new territory. Proposed and passed in 1884 by the Legislative
Committee meeting at Willamette Falls (Oregon City), the Act
prevented "the introduction, sale, and distillation of
ardent spirits in Oregon." This prohibitory act was superseded
in 1845 by what was hoped to be a rather more constitutional
law: the imposition of a hefty license fee on anyone contemplating
the sale of intoxicating beverages. Despite Provisional Governor
Abernathy's veto, the bill passed and became law on the 18th
of December, 1846.
The licensing fee was set at $200 per year, in a cash-poor
society, rendering it nearly impossible to open any kind of
establishment dispensing liquor. That all changed by 1849
when gold dust from the California mines began to drift northward.
In July of 1850, the first license to sell liquor in Salem
was issued to "O.P. Riley" (Philip O'Riley). He
paid the fee and, according to later licensing provisions,
offered security bonds on the condition that he would "keep
an orderly house and allow no unlawful gaming or riotous conduct
in or about" the premises. Within a few months, O'Riley
had turned the enterprise over to James Force.
Named appropriately the El Dorado Saloon, the tavern was
located in North Salem, near the mills bought by Force's brother
John. By October of 1852, the establishment was in the hands
of "Plomanden" and Isaacs. Following the designation
of Salem as Territorial capital, political affairs transferred
to the burgeoning city on the Willamette. This required that
accommodations for Legislators and executives arriving to
transact business in the new capital be provided; one of the
first to capitalize on this necessity was Joseph Holman, who
opened his Holman House in 1851. The "Old Holman Building"
had been built previous to 1850 to the west of Commercial
Street on Ferry. Holman operated a store and hotel expressly
for the reception of travelers to Salem.
"Vic's" Saloon held forth at the Holman House in
its early days to cater to the thirsts of travelers and Early
Territorial Legislators. Run by one of the most colorful characters
in early Oregon history, Victor Trevitt - - known for his
very "original and spicy humor" - - the watering
hole even had a "boll alley" for the diversion of
its patrons. Since Trevitt also served as Clerk of the Territorial
House from 1851-1855, he was intimately acquainted with most
members of the Legislative Assembly, and he may have been
one of the "association of gentlemen" who published
the first newssheet ever issued at Salem - - the Vox Populi
- - which dealt exclusively with Legislative matters in a
most irreverent manner; it was published at the Holman House,
and the material contained in the early newspaper probably
originated over drinks and cigars at Vic's. James W. Nesmith
took over the saloon and bowling alley when Trevitt left for
Another early saloon, in what would become downtown Salem,
was the Nonpareil; its exact date of establishment is unknown,
but it was advertising ice for sale in the summer of 1854.
Housed in the Montgomery Building on the east side of Commercial
Street just south of State Street, the saloon was in existence
by the summer of 1853 since other businesses advertised their
location as "next to" or "just south of"
the Nonpareil. This saloon may have been operated by Elias
Montgomery, builder of the business house that bore his name,
as he was granted a license to sell spirituous beverages in
July of 1855.
On that same day, Thomas B. Newman applied for and received
a license to keep a "Bolling Alley and Billiard Table."
It could be that the Nonpareil was a billiard saloon (with
a bar on the side), as the popularity of that form of entertainment
was at its zenith in the early 1850s. And use of the term
"saloon" could cover a multitude of functions: a
barber shop of that time was called a "Tonsorial Saloon."
By 1858, according to Kuchel and Dressel's lithograph of
the Salem scene, three saloons were prominent enough to include
in their illustrations of residences, churches, and business
houses. The "Gem Saloon" was the only one shown
as part of a hotel, the Union House. That hotel had an interesting
history of its own, being a combination of the first store
in Salem (that of William Cox and Company, established in
1848) and a blacksmith shop erected next door. When the Coxes
closed their store in 1853, the two buildings were joined
to become the Union (signifying the fact of its having once
been two separate structures).
Here, at the northeast corner of Commercial and Ferry, Patrick
D. Palmer kept the bar. Palmer's bar also sported a billiard
table. The Union House burned in May of 1863; when it was
rebuilt, the barroom became the Magnolia Saloon and, in 1871,
was leased to Mrs. Eliza Bernant, the only female proprietor
of a saloon in Salem to that date.
Perhaps the longest running saloon in Salem's history was
the Belvedere, on the west side of Commercial Street between
State and Ferry Streets. Also pictured in Kuchel and Dressel's
1858 Salem view, the saloon was built by the Plamondon brothers,
Eusebe M. and Francis F., in the summer of 1854, and was often
referred to as "Plum's" Belvedere. Their establishment
featured both billiards and a "Bolling alley." Even
though it burned in April of 1866 - - supposedly the work
of an arsonist - - it was rebuilt in another location and
was going strong near the turn of the twentieth century.
The last of the three pictured saloons in 1858 was possibly
the most infamous: John "Patcheye" Byrne's Crystal
Saloon (not to be confused with another notorious tavern,
John "Sandy" Burns' North Star Saloon, which was
of a later vintage). The Crystal must have been close to the
Union House for, when that hotel burned in May, 1863, the
fire had been deliberately set in the rear of the Byrne's
saloon; his loss was $5,000. P.D. Palmer, another substantial
loser in the fire, swore if he found out Byrne had fired his
own saloon, he (Palmer) "would put a patch on his other
eye." Byrne rebuilt, apparently, for he was one of the
five saloon keepers listed in Salem's directory for 1867.
The other four were: W.L. Morris Brook Saloon, Robert Meinkey's
Magnolia Saloon in the Union Hotel, the Belvedere, and George
Spong's North Star Saloon.
In 1869, an innovation in saloon entertainment made its debut
at the North Star Saloon: "hurdy-gurdy" girls, the
first ever seen in Salem. These dancers may have come from
Maggie Gardner's establishment on the east side of Liberty
Street between Court and State Streets. "Madame Maggie
and her girls" had become a Salem fixture ever since
her arrival in 1867. And the fact that lightning didn't immediately
strike the historic old building was cause for amazement since
the structure was built by the Reverend Lewis H. Judson for
his family and later served at the cradle of the Pacific Christian
Advocate, first published in 1855 on the premises. A short-distance
move to Court Street between Commercial and Liberty Streets,
and the addition of a false front, transformed the old home
into a saloon whose reputation for nickel beer and free fisticuffs
made John "Sandy" Burns' place a hangout for the
rowdy element in Salem.
When the Opera House on Liberty and Court was completed in
1869, it also offered spiritous beverages for the clientele:
O.H. Smith's Opera Saloon. Joseph Bernardi's Capital Saloon
on the south side of State Street dispensed wines and liquors
prior to 1871, as did J. Adkins and L..J Stone in the Pony
Saloon, also on State Street. Robert Bean's Oriflamme Saloon
opposite the Chemeketa House was in direct competition with
O.H. Smith's Chemeketa Saloon in that hotel. By this point
in time, several hotels were established in both North and
downtown Salem, each having a barroom or tavern to slake the
thirst of its clients.
There were, in addition to the thirteen saloons operating
in Salem in 1871, three breweries: the Pioneer begun by John
Brown and Henry Hageman in 1862, the City of Salem Brewery
established by Thomas Green in 1866, and the Pacific in North
Salem, established also in 1866 by Lewis Westacott. Salem
offered, indeed, a plethora of "adult beverages"
to be consumed!
By 1889, Commercial Street in the three blocks between Trade
and Court Streets was a veritable drinker's paradise with
nine bars or saloons on either side of the street; six years
later, there were an even dozen saloons in that short space,
and State Street between Water and High Streets featured another
six. Understandably, with all this imbibing going on, the
civil authorities were hard-pressed to keep the peace. Every
issue of the local paper carried a notice of some "disturber
of the peace" brought before the City Recorder to answer
for his misbehavior.
In September of 1869, Salem's Council had adopted an ordinance
"Relating to Common Drunkards: on petition of 20 residents
of Salem to the City Recorder that any person is in the habit
of becoming grossly drunk, and had kept up such a habit for
period of one month, the Recorder shall declare such a person
a common drunkard." Further, "it shall not be lawful
for any person to sell, give, or in any manner assist such
drunkard to obtain any wine, spirituous, or malt liquors."
To further emphasize the problem, in the 1872 City Recorder's
report, he cited the arrest of 81 persons for drunkenness
in the previous eleven months. The usual penalty for such
public displays of inebriation was a fine and/or a night in
the City jail to "sleep it off." At the Salem Council
meeting of 22 April 1869, a committee was appointed to recommend
a plan for building a new City jail. This was built on Liberty
Street below State Street to replace the old wooden calaboose
constructed in 1853 on Ferry Street between Church and High
Streets. (The new lock-up served its purpose until 1894 when
the jail facilities became part of the new City Hall.)
The 1870s was period of growing agitation on the part of
Salem society against the evils of drink. The severity of
the problem was exemplified by a suit brought by the Marion
County Commissioners against Robert W. Hill at its April,
1871, term; the defendant was accused of wasting $8,000 of
his estate on excessive drinking and idleness, leaving his
wife and two small children as potential charges on the County.
To remedy the situation, a guardian was appointed to preserve
what was left of the young man's property and see to it that
Hill reformed his ways.
A Women's Temperance Prayer League had been organized in
Portland early in 1874 and set about harassing - - by prayer
and hymns - - patrons of various drinking establishments in
that city. Nothing quite so militant had been formed in Salem
by that date but, as early as 1853, Salem had an active organization
of the Sons of Temperance; in May they urged all "Christians,
philanthropists, and patriots" to join a general rally
"to help stay the tide of drunkenness and desolation."
This organization died out in 1858 but was reorganized that
year as part of the Oregon Territorial Temperance Association.
By the Spring of 1865, an ordinance to close all Salem businesses
on Sunday - - effective May 1st of that year - - was issued.
This new act, Section 653 of the Criminal Code, proscribed
Sunday opening of any "store, shop, grocery, boll alley,
billiard room, tippling house, or any place of amusement .
. ." Exceptions to this ordinance were grocery stores
which could be open until nine a.m., drug stores until ten
a.m., and restaurants serving food to be eaten on the premises
until ten a.m. on Sundays. Fines to be imposed on those disobeying
the order were set at $5-$50.
This ordinance failed to accomplish its purpose, but another
attempt in the Spring of 1874 - - a voluntary Sunday closing
law - - gained the support of a goodly proportion of Salem's
businessmen, thought only a handful of the town's tavern keepers.
On the National scene, a Prohibition Party had been organized
in 1869; by 1874, the Women's Christian Temperance union was
in operation throughout the country. While Salem can lay claim
to no such aggressive reformers as Carrie Nation and her ax-wielding,
saloon-busting tactics, apparently Salem' local temperance
societies were a force to be reckoned with if this notice
by one saloon keeper is any indication:
Salem, November 7, 1879
Notwithstanding the frantic efforts of certain interested
close up the Granger Saloon, it' doors are again opened, and
am happy to state to my customers that no change whatever
been made in either liquors or cigars.
By May of 1909, the Prohibitionists had gained sufficient
influence to force a vote in the City Council making Salem
a dry town. Five years later, the whole state had voted "dry",
joining 31 other states who had so voted by 1919 when Constitutional
Amendment 18 became the law of the land, and alcohol of any
kind was prohibited.
For all intents and purposes, Prohibition closed down all
of Salem's saloons but, for the nearly seven decades that
had flourished in the town, their presence on City streets
had provided a constant source of new items for the local
paper and fodder for countless sermons in churches throughout
the City. For the 14 years Prohibition was in effect, the
liquor traffic didn't halt but merely went underground with
bootlegging and moonshine stills setting up operations in
the Valley, but that is another whole chapter in Salem's history.
Researched and written by Sue Bell
Illustrated Historic 1 Atlas Map of Marion and Linn
Counties, Oregon (S.F.: Edgar Williams & Co., 1878),
Contemporary newspapers are of little use during this early
time period, as it seems Asahel Bush accepted no saloon advertising,
or the owners felt it was a needless expense; therefore, unearthing
details on early Salem saloons necessitated the use of sources
Marion County Miscellaneous Records (hereafter MCMR),
Marion County Commissioners Court Journals (hereafter
Marion County History (hereafter MCH) issues, and Salem
directories for various years.
Sources for the El Dorado Saloon were MCMR, Vol. 1, p. 232;
MCCCJ, Vol. 1, July, 1851;
OR Census- -1850; Lewis Hubbel Judson, Sketches of Salem,
MCH, Vol. 2, p. 47.
Salem Daily Record Newspaper, 12 June 1867, 3:1; MCMR, Vol.
1, p. 123; Oregon Statesman Newspaper, 16 Dec. 1851, 2:5.
CMMMJ, Vol. 2, p. 154; ad in Oregon Statesman, 25 July 1854,
MCCCJ, Vol. 2, p. 102; Capital Journal Golden Anniversary
& Capitol Dedication Edition, 2 July 1938, 8:1; MCMR,
Vol.2, pp. 140-141 and Vol. 3, p. 495.
MCCCJ, Vol. 2, pp. 101, 129; Daily Oregon Statesman, 10 Aug.
J. Henry Brown, Sketches of Salem from 1851 to 1869,
MCH, Vol. 3, p. 22; Hal D. Patton's Fiftieth Anniversary 12
Jan. 1922, p. 31.
Ben Maxwell, Salem in 1869: A Year of Transition,
MCH, Vol. 3, pp. 27-28; Lewis Judson, Reverend Lewis Hubbel
Judson, MCH, Vol. 4, pp. 21-24.
Salem Directory 1871 & 1872, p. 60; Maxwell, op. cit.,
Salem Directory 1872, City Recorder's reports.
Malcolm H. Clark, Jr., et al, The War on the Webfoot Saloon
& Other Tales of Feminine Adventures (Ptld: Glass-Dahlstrom
Printers, 1969), pp. 3-23; Oregon Statesman, 21 June 1853,
Daily Oregon Statesman Newspaper, 11 Apr. 1887, 3:2.
The Daily Talk, 7 Nov. 1879, 3:3.
Daily Capital Journal newspaper, 17 May 1909, 1:5.
Salem Public Library, Ben Maxwell Photo Collection